Weekly Math Updates

January 19, 2006

Hi all,

    Kind of a packed update this week so I'll lead off with a quick table of contents.  I was actually going to send this out a couple hours ago but I got a great phone call from one of you that caused me to modify the email slightly.  The excitement is below.

  • Petition Progress-please give a form to teachers
  • Sylvan Learning Center
  • Article of the Week--Mattel's Math Problem (they failed)
  • Curriculum Choices of the Experts
  • Site Update-search added, tutors added

Petition Progress

After last week's email we had a motivated mom go out and hit the streets signing up several neighbors on the petition.  There was also an article in the Provo Herald on Saturday on the opinion page which was sort of pro-Investigations and basically told the people signing a petition to relax and that there were different ways kids learn.  One astute reader noticed the bit about a petition and after some web searching found us and joined our ranks.  It just goes to show that any publicity about the petition is bad publicity for Alpine School District.  Something amazing I learned just a couple weeks ago (and it kind of chaps me), the school district truly believes that this whole movement is just Oak Norton's personal crusade and about 15-20 other people that don't like the program.  They really believe that YOU the signers don't care about this issue.  The next school board meeting is February 14th at 6 PM.  What a great way to show your spouse your Valentine's love by attending a school board meeting together in support of your children's education. :)   Seriously though, yesterday I received a letter from the board (the first one ever) essentially acknowledging we have differing opinions over math (shocker).  They state they will continue to monitor programs and make adjustments as needed.  Reading between the lines they're essentially telling me they don't want me at the meetings anymore.  Now that doesn't dissuade me from attending if I have something to say to them, but after embarrassing and discrediting them several times with statistics and debunking the studies they've touted, I think they largely ignore me at this point out of self-preservation because if they had open minds they would have listened to reason before now.  What they need to learn is that thousands of families are being effected.  Please go to a board meeting and in your 3 minutes of time tell them your personal story.  I know you have them.

Now here's the kicker I mentioned at the beginning of this letter.  Tonight a petition signer in Pleasant Grove called me just before going to press :) and stated that a teacher he spoke with had no idea that due to our actions in October, the board issued a statement in November giving teachers the freedom to teach traditional math.  This particular teacher was excited to read the district statement ON MY WEBSITE!!!  Why didn't the district distribute it?  They've had over 2 months now to do it.  Are they afraid teachers will get ideas in their heads that might lead them to teach traditional math?

My wife also corresponded with a well respected local teacher (he's pro-Investigations but he has a better grasp on math than 99% of the other teachers since his father was a math teacher), and he said this whole issue is irrelevant and parents aren't displeased or they'd be telling the teachers.

Teachers need to hear from us that we don't like this fuzzy math that's hurting our children and they need to know they have the freedom to teach traditional math againMany of them WANT TO!  To overcome this we need to do a very simple thing and this is where you come in.

For each of your children's teachers:

1) Print a copy of the Letter to Teachers (attached)  

2) Print a copy of the November board statement (attached)

3) Staple them together and have your child deliver them to their teachers

Feel free to customize the letter to the teachers (and be sure to replace "NAME" with your name and maybe the actual teacher's name for the word "teacher").  Then staple them together and have your child give it to their teacher.  Also, ask your school principal if they were aware of this district oversite and ask them to give a copy to all of the teachers.  These actions will help spread the word to teachers and principals that we support them and want to help them teach our children. 

The district will soon get a taste of further embarrassment as we pass 5% of the district on our petition and gain momentum from teachers that support what we're doing...and believe me, they're out there cautiously cheering us on.  We only need about 60 more petitions signed by the end of the month to reach our goal in Alpine District.  Please reach out and contact people.  Go door to door and you may actually be surprised to find neighbors that are on the petition and you never knew it.  Please make the effort to help us over the 5% mark this month.

Sylvan Learning Center (link to Sylvan report)

One of the families in our petition group recently took their 2nd grader to a Sylvan Learning Center for testing to see what the child's math skills were really at.  This individual has been on the petition since the beginning and read all the emails and notes about parents taking children to charter schools and having them held back 1-2 grade levels in math, so the parents decided to find out for themselves where their child was at mathematically.  (Let me state before stirring the pot that all children are at different stages of ability and that although this case may be typical of what's happening in the district, I am not trying to make you personally panic over where your child is at compared to others, but I am saying you should consider that good grades are not an indicator of your child's learning.)

With their permission I am attaching their child's 94% "A" grade received in her Alpine School District 2nd grade classroom, as well as the Sylvan report which shows the pupil at an overall first grade level (over a full year behind--the student's current grade of 2.4 on the report means 2nd grade, 4th month).  Reading the Silvan assessment form, the child scored only 30% correct on addition and 10% correct on subtraction for the child's current grade level.  The computation skills were scored as a 1.2, meaning on par with a first grade, second month level, and the concepts and application scores (the big bonus from using Investigations math early on) were scored at a 0.6, or in other words, a 6-month Kindergarten level.  The shaded area at the bottom of the report shows the areas and grades that need instruction based on the testing.  The major point here is that when the district teachers pass out grades of "A" 94%, a parent typically thinks their child is "getting" math, but the fact is children are not getting a grade based on how much they know compared to children in traditional programs, but how well they are doing in a watered down curriculum.  These programs should not be used as the main course, but as a snack after the meal.

I spoke with the Sylvan Learning Center in Orem and they cannot comment where they stand on any issue related to math because they deal with Alpine, Provo, and Nebo school districts on a daily basis and must remain neutral, but in explaining our situation to them, they have offered a special deal for anyone that mentions my name if you want to have your child tested similarly to the attached report.  Just mention Oak Norton referred you in and they will give you a discount on the price to have your child tested to see where his/her weak areas are which can then be reinforced by Sylvan's teaching or by your own at home.  Also be aware that full testing includes reading assessments and that's extra money so you can further reduce the cost if you want math testing only.

Article of the Week

Invasion of the Math Snatchers
Opinion Editorial January 14, 2004
By Barry Fagin-Comp Sci professor at the Air Force Academy and co-inventor of the Crandall-Fagin algorithm, used to discover the world's largest prime number.
"Math is hard, let's go shopping!"

When Mattel released a talking Barbie who offered that bit of teenage wisdom, public reaction was so furious they pulled her off the shelves. Mattel is still trying to recover from the PR disaster.

I assume they fired the guy who came up with that little gem. Not that it mattered much.

I have every confidence he's enjoying a new career, designing math programs for American public schools."

(continued: http://www.i2i.org/article.aspx?ID=951 )


Curriculum Choices of the Experts

Being as involved on the math issue as I have been for several months, I've been privileged to correspond with some of the best educators in the nation...mathematicians around the country at some of the top technical universities.  Before going in to meet with the school board last week I emailed these people and asked them this "loaded" question.

"If someone were to put a gun to your head and make you choose your top 3 math curriculum choices, what would they be?"

I didn't really expect to get such consistent answers from the group since they were spread around the country, but there was surprising consistency in their answers.

They concurred that the number one program to teach math to children is the English version of Singapore Math BUT ONLY IF the teachers teaching the program actually have a good grasp on math.  If the teachers don't have more than basic math skills, then Saxon math is the best program because it is structured for both teachers and students to ensure math is taught properly for comprehension.  Third place went to Sadlier-Oxford and then there was praise for some Russian and French programs.  All were unified that constructivist learning is accelerating the downfall of higher math education.  Oddly enough, when I met with Barry Graff months ago at the district office, the number one issue for the district related to math is that elementary education teachers typically have low math skills which then makes it difficult to teach with confidence from a program lacking all structure (Investigations).  Saxon math can remedy that by giving a structured program to both teachers and students.

Site Updated

I have put a Google-based search function on my site so that you can attempt to find things quicker since I know a weakness of my time limitation is a somewhat randomly organized site with a variety of things on each page.  Hopefully this will help to find things you know you've seen but don't know where to locate.  There's also another traditional math tutor listed in Orem now so those in the South end of ASD have another option.  If you live outside ASD, I'd be happy to add anyone in Utah that is a traditional math tutor, just have them contact me.

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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